Democrat and Chronicle
By Jeff DiVeronica June 4, 2013
After taking a couple of months to decide, John Butterworth, told his wife last week that he’d made up his mind. He was finally going to retire as Penfield’s boys varsity soccer coach, a position he has held since 1985.
“Are you sure?” Cindy Butterworth said, asking something she repeated several times because coaching soccer has never been a job to John Butterworth, it has been a big part of him, his life and his family’s.
When he told his grown daughters of his decision both became emotional. The younger of the two cried. “They grew up on the touch line,” John says.
That’s how important Penfield soccer has been to the Butterworths, whose “extended family,” athletic director Pete Shambo says, was “a Penfield soccer family.” Jennifer, 34, and Amy, 30, are John’s only children, but Butterworth coached plenty of sons — hundreds, in fact — just not his own. Penfield soccer was his third child.
He taught. He listened. He coached.
“His main priority was doing things in the right way,” says Charlie Bour, 30, a key player on two of Butterworth’s 11 Section V championship teams. “He’s a competitive guy and wanted to win but he never communicated something like that in an outward way. It was always about behaving appropriately, training right, doing things properly and if you did that, the wins would come.”
Boy, did they. Butterworth steps away from the state’s winningest large-school program and just the sixth nationally to reach 800 victories. His career record was 384-11-70. That included nine trips to the state final four and state championships in 2001, 2002 and 2004. A three-time All-Greater Rochester Coach of the Year and 2005 finalist for the same honor nationally, he built upon the foundation set by George Steitz, who won 408 games in 31 years before handing the reins to Butterworth. Steitz, 89, says Butterworth has been like a son.
“He was a great student of the game and I know he was a better tactician of the game than I ever was,” Steitz says.
Knowing his passion for coaching, people immediately have asked about his health. Butterworth, 60, is fine. He said, “it’s just time,” to turn the program over, just as Steitz did for him after Butterworth’s JV teams went 55-15-5 in five seasons.
“I’m happy for him because I know it’s the right time for John,” said Shambo, who expects to name a successor in the next couple months. “I’m going to be hard-pressed to find somebody of his caliber.”
A 1971 graduate of Pittsford, Butterworth was exposed to great coaching as a teenager, playing for Ray Davison (varsity) and Joe Borrosh (JV), before Borrosh became a Mendon varsity coach. Steitz saw Butterworth play in high school and at the University of Rochester. They talked occasionally. He also knew that at 19 Butterworth was vice president of the Brighton-Pittsford Youth Soccer League. Steitz hired Butterworth after he’d coached just one year of club soccer at Victor, where he started the school’s program in 1975. Butterworth was 23.
A financial planner, Butterworth’s teams were built on being organized and solid, if not outstanding, defensively. “Maximize what we’ve got out there, minimize the other team’s capabilities,” he said. “We always tried to put a thumb on what the other team did well and try to take it away from them.”
Penfield always had a plan because he was keen on scouting, using longtime assistants Tim Graves, John Cotsonas and Dave Heise, and communicating it well to his players. Jack Elliot, 40, a former All-American whose four brothers also played for Butterworth, said his high school teams were better prepared than his at the University of Notre Dame.
The way Butterworth treated players helped shape Elliot, he says, even as a father of three young children. He compares his parenting to the firm, fair and decent way Butterworth treated players.
“You are a class act and have been a supreme example of sportsmanship and mentoring to my son and to me, honestly,” one father of a former player wrote in a recent email to Butterworth.
He enforced a strict policy on behavior. If a player received a yellow card for dissent, not only was he removed from the match, he was suspended for the next one. Players received constant feedback, too, as Butterworth issued regular rating cards on their performance. But it was a two-way street. If Penfield was struggling, he’d ask for input. “We immediately pulled in the captains. They have to have a voice,” he says of the players. “It’s their team.
“You can’tbe afraid to let the kids know you feel about them. I think a lot of young coaches come in and think they’ve got to be authoritarian and kids respond so much better to you if there’s a mutual respect.”
Steitz saw boys feed off that approach. “They can see through the baloney,” he says.
They also saw Butterworth’s work ethic. “You can’t ask them to do anything you’re not doing yourself,” he says. “You’ve got to work really hard if you expect them to work really hard.”
Retirement will give John and Cindy more time with their daughters and four grandsons in the Boston area. But soccer gave John much, including his wife. They met as high school juniors on Oct. 3, 1969. She was new in town, having moved from Watertown, and a hard tackle in soccer put him on crutches.
“What happened to you?” she asked.
“Forty-four years later,” John says, smiling, “she’s still asking that.”